Campus Armenian student group presents historical documentary

The Armenian Students Association of Pittsburgh shares Armenian history and culture. (credit: Courtesy of Vinay Prabhu) The Armenian Students Association of Pittsburgh shares Armenian history and culture. (credit: Courtesy of Vinay Prabhu)

Celebrating their ancestry and culture, students of the Armenian Students Association of Pittsburgh organized an Armenian-themed event last Wednesday evening in the Dowd Room of the University Center.

The event began with a detailed presentation on Armenian history by Movses Musaelian, a sophomore statistics major. Musaelian’s presentation aimed to narrate an abridged version of the Armenian nation’s full history, spanning nearly five millennia.

Musaelian began his presentation by describing Armenia as a country that is often caught in the midst of conflicts among its neighbors. The nation has survived a long history of bloodshed and unrest and yet has thrived as a cultural melting pot.

The presentation also covered some aspects of the pre-Christian kingdom of Tigranes the Great — when Armenia saw its borders stretch from the Caspian Sea in the east to the Mediterranean in the west — and the medieval kingdom of Cilicia, which was a bastion of the Christian crusaders and which, as the presenter pointed out, was to be pronounced idiosyncratically in Armenian as “Kili-Kia.”

An important feature of the presentation was that Musaelian did not shirk from touching upon several controversial issues, such as the topics of Stalin’s divide-and-conquer tactics in Nakhchivan, the Armenian genocide of the early 1900s, the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and the deep-rooted rivalry with neighboring Azerbaijan.

When asked by a member of the audience about the Russian designs in the South Ossetia region of Georgia, one of Armenia’s strongest allies, Musaelian replied, “Well, we cannot afford to apply the same [strategy] uniformly everywhere. We need to make compromises as we treasure our alliance with Russia deeply.”
The presentation switched its focus from past history to the current political and cultural issues plaguing Armenia.

“The neo-liberal economic policies adopted by the main political parties [have] led to the mere creation of a few hyper-wealthy Russian-styled oligarchs in Armenia,” said Musaelian, commenting on the socio-economic beliefs and predisposition against neo-liberal economics that currently pervade Armenian politics.
The concluding section of the presentation focused on the current geo-political game being played in the oil-rich Eurasian Caucasus, which represents the most coveted piece of strategic real estate in the world, according to global strategists. Musaelian addressed the complex and overlapping interests of the regional powers — namely Turkey, Iran, and Russia — which, along with the United States and Europe, have resulted in an extremely volatile atmosphere pervading the region.

The historical presentation was followed by traditional Armenian cuisine, hand-cooked by one of the event organizers, Alana Yoel, a senior mechanical engineering major. The most popular dish was the cheese boerag, which Yoel described as “basically an Armenian version of the Greek dish spanikopita. The filling is a blend of cheeses — many different versions, but I used a blend of ricotta, mozzarella, cheddar, and muenster — [as well as] parsley, egg, salt, and pepper.” There were also Armenian string cheese and Armenian squash patties to accompany the Ararat sour cherry and apricot jams, which are typical dishes of the region.

After the presentation, conversations were hosted by the other event organizers, Keghani Kristelle Kouzoujian, a fifth year senior computer science major, and Sandra Kalanyan, a sophomore architecture major. They gave students firsthand accounts of their experiences of being part of an Armenian diaspora. When quizzed about their desire to visit Armenia in the near future, the organizers nodded in unison, commenting how excited they were at the very thought of revisiting their homeland.

All of the organizers could read the Armenian script and still spoke the language fluently, portraying how they have remained in touch with their ethnic roots and culture.

As the curtains came down and the event ended, the attendees seemed to have learned a lot about Armenian culture and society.

The documentary and dinner was an enriching event for both those of Armenian heritage and other students alike; according to the Armenian Students Association’s website, “the club is for any student who is interested in learning about and experiencing the rich culture and history of Armenia.”